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Why You Should Never Top A Tree (And What to Do Instead)

By August 7, 2020December 28th, 2020Tree Trimming
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Trees are a great part of any yard, but sometimes a tree may start to outgrow its space. When a tree is growing too big it is a common temptation to simply cut off the top part of the tree to downsize it a bit. While it may seem like a good solution to an overgrown tree in the short-term, this often causes much bigger problems in the long term.

What is Tree Topping and Should it be Used in Residential Tree Trimming?

Tree topping refers to the process of removing the top part of a tree in an effort to reduce the size of the tree as opposed to tree trimming which involves reducing the size of a tree through precise cuts to ensure tree health.

This takes out a great deal of the tree’s canopy and leaves the tree with a large number of stumps sticking out in all directions. Topping is not only damaging to the tree, but it is actually against city tree ordinances in Colorado Springs because it creates a hazard.

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When a tree is topped, it is left with more open wounds than what the tree can easily heal.

These cuts are susceptible to pests and disease, which may later spread to other trees in the surrounding area. Tree topping also weakens the tree and creates a greater risk that limbs will fall as the tree grows.

Why Experienced Tree Trimming Companies Will Not Top A Tree

Tree topping is usually done to reduce the size or height of a tree, but in the long run, it can cause the tree to be unsightly and unhealthy, and it may even cause the tree to die off. Often a tree that has been topped will end up needing to be removed altogether down the road.

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Removing too much of the tree’s canopy starves the tree because it cannot store energy, and as the tree starts to die it becomes a fall hazard. As new growth comes in, it will be weaker which will increase the potential for falling limbs. A large topped tree may even decrease home value because it takes away from the aesthetics of the home and is considered an inherited liability cost.

What Happens to A Tree When A Tree Trimmer Tops It?

Trees create photosynthesis and store the energy that they need in their leaves.

A tree needs a full leaf canopy to provide energy and protection from the elements to be able to thrive. When a tree is thinned out with proper tree trimming, the tree’s canopy is preserved so that it can continue with its natural photosynthesis process.

However, when a tree is simply topped, a large percentage of its tree canopy is destroyed. If the leaves that provide protection and energy to the tree are gone, the tree will be more susceptible to the elements and it will start to starve.

Tree branches need to be trimmed in a way that allows the tree to heal.

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A properly trimmed branch should be taken out at the branch base at a supporting limb so that the tree can heal over it naturally. However, when a tree is topped, the branches and limbs are cut midway down the limb which weakens this part of the tree.

When a limb is cut partway out, one of two things happens; either the limb will die back all the way, or it will start sending multiple fast-growing shoots to the site where it was cut. This puts enormous strain on the tree as it puts energy into trying to regrow where it was cut.

No more than 1/3rd of a tree should ever be cut out, but when a tree is topped the number of limbs cut often exceeds this. The tree cannot heal itself quickly enough to close all of the wounds, so it becomes susceptible to insects and disease. Pests and diseases may spread to neighboring trees and create an even larger problem.

Extensive Tree Trimming and Removal Services May be Needed Later

Topping a tree can create a tree maintenance headache in the long term. Some of the cut limbs will die back and need to be removed. Many deciduous trees will send multiple new sprouts out to the area where the tree was cut which will need to be trimmed back later.

The new growth will also be much weaker, and the potential for falling limbs becomes greater as the tree grows.

The tree will be much more likely to become infested with insects so tree spraying to protect the whole yard may become necessary. And after all of that, there is a good chance that the tree will simply die and need to be removed entirely.

When A Tree Pruning Service Is Done Correctly A Tree Can Thrive

Proper tree pruning will not make the tree any shorter, but it will make the tree stronger and less likely to be a problem. When a tree is pruned correctly the goal is to thin a tree out evenly by cutting out branches throughout the tree.

This will keep the canopy intact and allow the tree structure to grow fuller and stronger because it can allocate resources more evenly to the remaining limbs. Removing dead limbs from a tree will also reduce the hazards of limbs breaking and falling.

Branches should be cut from a larger supporting limb at the branch collar. A branch collar is the widened part of a branch at its base where it connects with another larger limb. Trimming this way allows the tree to seal the wound from the collar in and heal more easily and naturally. It is healthy to thin out a tree’s branches by about 25%, but no more than 1/3rd of a tree should ever be taken out.

When a tree is trimmed well, air circulation and sunlight can make their way through the tree in a balanced manner. The tree can distribute water and energy resources more evenly. A well-trimmed tree will be stronger and healthier with balanced new growth.

Precision Tree has been in the tree trimming and removal business for nearly 20 years. We offer free estimates and are always available to answer questions that you may have about your tree.


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